SAFFRON REVOLUTION: SEPTEMBER 2007 PROTESTS IN MYANMAR
In August and September 2007, there were large anti-government protests in Myanmar. The protests initially began over increased fuel prices and these evolved into larger demonstrations led by pro-democracy activists and Buddhist monks. Demonstrations led by Buddhist monks against the military junta brought 100,000 people into the streets of Yangon on September 24 calling for national reconciliation and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Two days later the junta began cracking down on the demonstrations. On September 27, soldiers and security forces fired automatic weapons into a crowd, killing perhaps dozens. Over 3,000 people were arrested. It was the strongest use of force since 1988, the event is sometimes called the Saffron Revolution because of the participation of saffron-robed monks.
Kenneth Denby wrote in The Times, It was “the biggest demonstrations in 20 years against one of the most stubborn and brutal military regimes in the world. Hundreds of thousands of Buddhist monks and believers marched in the biggest cities of Burma, peacefully demanding justice, relief from soaring prices and democratic reform. Students armed with digital cameras e-mailed images of the so-called Saffron Revolution across the world. Then the inevitable crackdown began. Dozens of demonstrators were killed by police batons and army bullets; thousands were locked up. Twelve months later the opposition is scattered, its leaders imprisoned and its power broken...The September 2007 uprising originated in much smaller demonstrations against a sudden rise in prices caused by the decision of the junta to remove subsidies on food in August of that year. The sudden economic hardship that this caused added to long-running resentment about the refusal of the junta to acknowledge the results of a general election in 1990, won by the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the intervening years under house arrest.” [Source: Kenneth Denby, The Times, September 26, 2008]
Many who joined the protests were ordinary people moved by the courage of marching Buddhist monks to take their own stand against the government. The peaceful demonstrators were easy targets for the military. Hannah Beech wrote in Time: “Labor leader Su Su Nway told Time: "The junta is trying to create a very intimidating environment. People must stand up," she says, "and choose between freedom and oppression."Thousands of Burmese are doing just that... Significantly, Buddhist monks have marched by the hundreds in several cities, adding a stamp of spiritual authority to the protest movement in this deeply devout country....No surprise then that many Burmese sympathize with the protesters. "You knock on a door late at night and whisper, 'Let me in, brother,'" says an activist who has so far escaped the police dragnet. "People willingly help us, even though they're well aware of the dire consequences." The regime is doing its best to prevent further unrest and capture any stray dissidents. Trucks full of hired enforcers patrol major street corners in Rangoon. The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Burma has received reports that some of the arrested activists are being tortured. But the generals have to be careful with their clampdown — too much violence could fuel even more civilian anger. "It's likely that an economic spark, combined with a dramatically violent response from the regime, could set the stage for revolt," says Aung Naing Oo, a Bangkok-based Burma analyst. [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, September 17, 2007]
Film: Burma VJ: Reporting from A Closed Country. (2008)
Beginning of September 2007 Protests in Myanmar
In mid August the Myanmar government abruptly rose fuel price that including a large hike in gasoline prices. In some places fuel prices were increased by as much as 500 percent. People were upset and took to the streets. In one cases two dozen protesters were only able to march 30 meters before they were beaten and wrestled into trucks by vigilante thugs.
Al-Jazeera reported: “At least 500 people led by pro-democracy activists in Myanmar have held a rare protest in Yangon over the government's arbitrary increase of fuel prices. A few days earlier the military government imposed a 100 per cent rise in fuel prices at state-owned petrol stations without giving any reason.The march led by former student activists of the 88 Generation Students' Group began with about 100 people, moving along a major road north of Yangon. The protesters did not shout slogans or hold up placards. The group said the crowd swelled as bystanders joined in before dispersing after marching for about nine kilometers. [Source: Al-Jazeera, Agencies, August 20, 2007 =]
“The protesters, including some former student leaders who have served long prison terms, said the authorities watched and videotaped the event but did not interfere. Min Ko Naing, a former student leader, said the protest was "to reflect the hardship our people are facing due to the government's fuel price hike". "Some cars stopped and those inside clapped their hands when they knew that we were staging this performance in protest against the fuel price hike," he added. =
“The government of Myanmar, formerly Burma, has a monopoly on fuel sales. The immediate effect of the massive price hike was felt by commuters as bus fares increased along with prices of basic consumer goods. In a statement, the Asia Pacific People's Partnership on Burma (APPPB) demanded that the government tackle the resulting problem of skyrocketing commodity prices and inflation rate. The APPPB said the increase in the price of natural gas was "not rational" given its abundance in the country. Khin Ohmar, the APPPB co-ordinator, quoted Ktay Kywe, a former student leader, as saying that while the majority had to walk, the military elites had vehicles that cost between $75,000 and RM250,000.” =
Two days later Aye Aye Win of Associated Press wrote: “ Hundreds of pro-democracy activists marched to protest the doubling of fuel prices by Myanmar's military government but scattered as junta supporters took at least six away in cars, witnesses said. About 300 protesters walked from the outskirts of the commercial capital Yangon, encouraging onlookers to join the rare display of public opposition as plainclothes police officers watched from a distance, witnesses said. "We are marching to highlight the economic hardship that Myanmar people are facing now, which has been exacerbated by the fuel price hike," a protester who identified herself only as Mimi told onlookers. [Source: Aye Aye Win, Associated Press, August 22, 2007 +]
“The demonstrators were confronted by a group of pro-government supporters and the two sides began shouting at one another, witnesses said. At least six protesters were forced into cars and driven away and the remaining demonstrators quickly dispersed, witnesses said. The protest came a day after 13 activists were detained by Myanmar authorities, including leaders of a pro-democracy group that demonstrated previously against the fuel-price increases. They could face up to 20 years in prison, the official media reported. +
“The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said "agitators" of the 88 Generation Students group were detained for attempting to undermine the "stability and security of the nation." Members of the 88 Generation Students were at the forefront of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising and were subjected to lengthy prison terms and torture after the rebellion was brutally suppressed by the military. The 1988 uprising was preceded by public protests over rising rice prices, a sudden demonetization and other economic hardships. The detentions overnight came two days after the group led more than 400 people in a protest march through Yangon against the doubling of fuel prices on Aug. 15. Those arrested included Min Ko Naing,” regarded as Myanmar’s second-most prominent political activist after Aung San Suu Kyi. +
Thugs Break Up Fuel Price Protests
A few days after the first high-fuel-cost protests began Associated Press reported: “Myanmar's military government broke up a peaceful protest march for a second straight day, beating and arresting participants in an attempt to tame street rallies led by democracy activists against fuel price increases. Plainclothes officers and some civilian supporters of the junta stopped about 40 people marching quietly two miles toward their party headquarters in the capital. Authorities ordered bystanders, especially journalists, out of the area after a 30-minute standoff. Protesters sat on the pavement and formed a human chain, but about a dozen were dragged and shoved into trucks and buses, where some were slapped around, said witnesses, who asked not to be identified for fear of being called in by police. Reporters were also roughed up by security personnel, who shouted abusive language. [Source: AP, August 23, 2007 ++]
“The protest march was the third this week against the government's doubling of fuel prices last week in the impoverished country. Government supporters with sticks attacked some of the 300 protesters who marched the day before, seizing eight who were accused of being agitators. The eight were interrogated and released. A similar protest was held three days before. Most demonstrators in the most recent protest were from the party of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. ++
"Unable to bear the burden of spiraling consumer prices, the public express their sentiments through peaceful means. However, the authorities have arrested, tortured, beaten up and endangered the lives of those who are peacefully expressing their dissatisfaction," Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy said in a statement. Economic dissatisfaction sparked the country's last major upheaval in 1988. ++
Aung Hla Tun of Reuters wrote: “A tense stand-off ensued before the marchers, who had been walking towards the offices of the opposition National League for Democracy, were manhandled into trucks belonging to the junta's feared Union Solidarity and Development Association A Reuters reporter at the scene was told not to take photographs. For a second day, armed police and truckloads of USDA men armed with spades and brooms took up positions in the center of the former capital. However, in an apparent effort to stop to the widespread public anger at last week's shock fuel price rises, bus fares for the shortest journeys were halved. However, the junta's coordinated action, starting with midnight swoops on the student leaders, had probably ensured the series of small but persistent social protests did not snowball into something larger. "These people have vowed to continue the struggle at all costs. They have vowed to go all the way, and so for sure they will continue to protest," said Aung Naing Oo, a 1988 protester who fled to Thailand to escape the bloody military crackdown. "But I doubt a large majority of people will participate. Small gatherings of 100 here, 200 there, will go on but the emphasis is on the word small," he said. [Source: Aung Hla Tun, Reuters, August 23, 2007]
Two days later Associated Press reported: “Myanmar’s junta has detained at least 65 activists who protested fuel-price hikes, a state-controlled newspaper and witnesses reported, including two arrested as they were about to launch a fresh demonstration. The New Light of Myanmar said 13 of those arrested from the prominent pro-democracy 88 Generation Students group “are being interrogated” for allegedly undermining the government, colluding with insurgent groups and harming the community peace. [Source: AP, August 25, 2007]
Yangon was quiet with pro-junta supporters and plainclothes police deployed throughout the city to prevent further protests. Trucks stood ready to take demonstrators away. Nyan Win, a spokesman for the opposition National League for Democracy party, said eight demonstrators had been released, but that the fate of the others was unknown.
Monks Join the September 2007 Protests in Myanmar
The anti-government rallies gained momentum when Buddhist monks in Pakokku joined the protests in early September. Pakokku is a center of Buddhist learning with many monasteries about 600 kilometers northwest of Yangon. Buddhist monks took up the cause to voice their discontent over the fuel price hikes. They joined and then led protests. At first the demonstrations were peaceful, with the monks calling for retraction of the price hikes. The monks chanted: “Let everyone be free from harm. Let everyone be free from anger. Let everyone be free from hardship.” When security forces began using violence against the monks—there were reports of troops beating protesting monks in Pakkoku on September 6—the demonstrations began to swell, in some cases, some have said, to more than 100,000 people.
Charles London, who was visiting Myanmar as a tourist at the time of the protests, wrote in the New York Times, “For weeks, monks had been marching in the cities throughout the country to protest the economic hardship and repression imposed by the ruling military junta. Some of the protests in Yangon used Sule Pagoda as a staging ground....During my stay, monks continued to march, and though locals seemed to know when and where these marches would occur, many said they were hesitant to go for fear of being blacklisted, having their children barred from school, their families questioned. In Mandalay, people told me the use of loudspeakers by religious groups had been outlawed, irritating Muslims who were in the midst of Ramadan. Though the muezzins were silent, the monks continued to organize new protests. [Source: Charles London, New York Times, October 21, 2007 ++]
“On my last day in the country, I couldn’t help but follow the three young monks as they wove through the downtown crowds. I saw another group hop off a bus, sloshing through puddles, also walking intently to Sule Pagoda. I noticed a crowd forming outside the temple. I joined it. Behind me, the police at City Hall unlocked the barbed-wire gate there. They started the engine of a jeep, but no one in the crowd took notice. Suddenly, 500 monks emerged in rows four across. They carried flags and overturned alms bowls. When the first group stopped and chanted a prayer, some people in the crowd dared to clap. It was timid at first, but as more monks emerged to begin their protest, the clapping grew louder until the whole crowd seemed overcome by it. A Burmese man leaned toward me. “They have never done this before,” he said. “They clap for freedom.” The faces in the crowd were excited, part bliss, part terror. As the monks kept pouring out of the temple, the clapping turned to cheers. They walked on and hundreds of civilians marched with them, in spite of the rain. “We march to University,” a man said, urging me to come. University Avenue is the home of Aung San Suu Kyi. I did not have the nerve to go. The clapping seemed to shatter the notion that the movement would be limited to the clergy. ++
“Back at my hotel, I noticed that CNN was scrambled. A veil was being lowered between Myanmar and the rest of the world. The Internet was cut, and soldiers from the country moved into the city. The morning I left, I heard that my young guide was looking for me. I can’t be certain why. But a few days later, back in New York, as I was scouring blogs for news of the crisis, I saw his picture. The junta had finally lashed out against the protesters. His forehead was bandaged. His white shirt was spotted red. I have no way to ask him what happened. He’s inside a country a tourist was never meant to see. ++
Protesting Monks Burn Cars and Take Government Officials Hostage
In early September 2007, news agencies reported: “Several hundred monks staged a demonstration in Myanmar in an escalation of the ongoing protests against massive fuel price increases, eyewitnesses said. And, the monks took about 20 officials of Myanmar's security forces hostage inside their monastery. The hostages were freed after a few hours when a senior abbot intervened to end the tense stand-off. The protesting monks numbered between 300 and 500 people, the eyewitnesses said. The monks also burnt at least four cars belonging to the officials in yesterday's incident, a resident said. 'Bystanders cheered as monks torched the cars one by one, but monks have told laymen that they will take care of the matter themselves,' he said. Police and firemen did not respond immediately to the torching of the vehicles. [Source: Reuters, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, September 7, 2007]
The officials who were held hostage had gone to the so-called Middle Monastery in the town of Pakokku, 600km north-west of Yangon, to apologise over an incident in which soldiers fired shots over the heads of protesting monks, a witness said. The officials had also gone to the monastery to ask the abbot to stop monks - who are highly revered in Buddhist Myanmar - from taking part in the sporadic marches that have broken out in the past two weeks, the witness added. The intervention by the troops was the first time they had been called in during two weeks of rare public dissent. A handful of monks were arrested, but most retreated to their monasteries.
Pakokku is a center for Buddhist learning, with more than 80 monasteries, including at least 15 that are used for teaching. There are an estimated 35,000 monks in the town. Intervening against monks in Pakokku is particularly risky for the ruling junta as the town is only about 130km from the country's second largest city of Mandalay. Historically, monasteries have played a major role in political uprisings, both in 1988 and in revolts against then-Burma's colonial master Britain. Before this, the military had responded by arresting leading dissidents and sending pro-junta gangs onto the streets of Yangon to break up protests.
In mid-September 2007, AFP reported: “Myanmar's junta admitted using tear gas and firing warning shots in the air to break up about 1,000 Buddhist monks protesting against the regime. The monks rallied Tuesday in Sittwe, 560 kilometers (350 miles) west of Yangon, and at least three were arrested by police, according to the Myanmar-language service of US-funded Radio Free Asia. The state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar said the protesters became "violent" and authorities "had to use tear gas and fired three shots in the air to disperse the crowd." One official and nine policemen were injured, the paper said in a rare admission about the use of violence. But it added no protesters were injured or arrested. [Source: AFP, September 19, 2007]
The protest was among several peaceful marches by Buddhist monks across Myanmar, which has been rocked over the past month. The nationwide marches drew hundreds of monks and other people who defied the regime's iron fist against public protest in the biggest anti-junta rally in a decade. Three days later, Reuters reported, two men jailed for two years for giving water to protesting monks were freed after 1,000 monks had marched in Sittwe in northwest Myanmar and threatened more protests unless they were released.
Monk Protests Reach Yangon
Monks began protesting in Yangon in significant numbers on September 18. Associated Press reported: “Almost 1,000 Buddhist monks marched through the streets of Myanmar's biggest city, protected by a human chain of onlookers as they kept alive the most sustained and defiant protests against the military government in at least a decade. Having gathered at the golden hilltop Shwedagon pagoda, the country's most revered shrine, the monks marched to Sule pagoda in downtown Yangon and then rallied briefly outside the U.S. Embassy. With no destination evident, the monks marched through many of Yangon's main thoroughfares, attracting supporters as they carried on. Thousands of people walked alongside or behind them as they marched past Scott's Market, the city's main market that is also a magnet for tourists. [Source: AP, September 21, 2007///]
“It was the third straight day the monks have marched in Yangon. Their activities have given new life to a protest movement that began a month ago after the government raised fuel prices, sparking demonstrations against policies that are causing economic hardship. As they marched calmly in long processions though the city streets, onlookers accorded the monks respect by making the traditional Buddhist gesture of hands clasped together in front of bowed heads. They also offered snacks and drinks to the marchers, while others kept the streets clean by picked up water bottles. Such open expressions of support had been lacking at smaller demonstrations carried out by laymen over the past month. ///
“At the head of the procession were monks carrying religious flags and one carrying a begging bowl upside down, a symbol of protest. About 1,000 mostly young bystanders marched alongside, arms linked, to prevent any intrusion. No uniformed security personnel were in sight, though dozens of plainclothesmen stood by without interfering. In the Buddhist fashion of avoiding direct secular entanglements, the monks are making no explicit anti-government gestures, but their message is unmistakable to fellow citizens, because their normal duties outside their monasteries involve making morning rounds with begging bowls, individually or in small groups. ///
“The day before, a large crowd cheered as monks briefly occupied Sule pagoda, during one of several marches around the country. The monks pushed past closed gates to occupy the temple for 30 minutes before returning peacefully to their monasteries, witnesses said. At least four separate marches by monks took place on that day in Yangon, along with protests in at least two other cities, Sittwe and Mandalay. ///
“The saffron-robed monks have become the leaders of a movement launched on Aug. 19, when a few hundred ordinary citizens marched to protest a government increase in fuel prices. Several hundred activists have been detained. Angry over being beaten at an early demonstration, monks threatened to take to the streets unless the military junta apologized. The regime remained silent so they launched protests around the country that have grown from several hundred monks to several thousand. ///
Monks Take a Leadership Role in the September 2007 Protests in Myanmar
Denis Gray of Associated Press wrote: “It fell to Buddhist monks, normally nonpolitical advocates of loving kindness, to lead Myanmar's recent uprising, taking over from veteran activists who had secretly organized and planned to confront the ruling military. "We had to stand up and lead," said U Kovida, a young monk who was a key protest organizer. The "88 Generation" decided this summer that the time had come to again take on their country's junta. [Source: Denis Gray, AP, October 27, 2007 \]
“In fact, protest leaders say, the marches were orchestrated by longtime activist groups that feared progress in the government's so-called "road to democracy" would cement the military's power for generations more. "The army was preparing to rule the country for a long time, through the lives of our sons and grandsons. We knew we had to act," said Hlaing Moe Than, 37, a 1988 protest leader who spent eight years in prison, where he says he was tortured. \\
“The leaders said that in prison, many schooled themselves in the ideology and tactics of Mohandas K. Gandhi and other advocates of nonviolent revolution, combining them with Buddhist teachings. Once freed, they regrouped to organize and plan under the cover of weddings, funerals and Buddhist ceremonies. They also developed links with the All Burma Monks Alliance and other activist Buddhist groups. \\
“The decision to take to the streets, even at the risk of being shot, was timed to the completion of guidelines for a new constitution that pro-democracy leaders say would institutionalize military control under the guise of democracy. The guidelines were finalized September 3.David Steinberg, a Georgetown University professor, agrees the impetus for the uprising came from the pending constitution, which gives "the military effective power, with basic control over the executive and legislative process." \\
“The 88 Generation activists had held small protests before the government doubled fuel oil prices Aug. 15. The increases ratcheted up the hardships— and anger—of the public in impoverished Myanmar. Then, on Sept. 5, soldiers beat and insulted several Buddhist monks who were protesting in the northern town of Pakkoku. In a society where monks are highly revered, this set off widespread demonstrations—monks and their supporters poured into the streets across the country. U Kovida, a 24-year-old monk who hid for three weeks before reaching Thailand, said leadership fell to the monks because the 1988 crackdown decimated the ranks of democracy activists and monks were exempt from restrictions such as a ban on gatherings of more than five people. \\
How the Monk Protests Evolved in Yangon
Describing the beginning of the protest on September 22, Andrew Marshall wrote in Time, “They pour out of the Shwedagon, an immense golden pagoda that is Burma's most revered Buddhist monument, two miles north of downtown Rangoon. The monks form an unbroken, mile-long column — barefoot, chanting their haunting mantras, clutching pictures of the Buddha, their robes drenched with the late-monsoon rains. They walk briskly, stopping briefly to pray when they reach Sule Pagoda. Then they're off again, coursing through the city streets in a solid stream of red and orange, like blood vessels giving life to an oxygen-starved body. Their effect on Rangoon's residents is electrifying. At first, only a few brave onlookers applaud. Others clasp their hands together in respectful prayer or quietly weep. Then, as people grow bolder, the monks are joined by tens of thousands of Burmese, some chanting their own mantra, in English: "Democracy! Democracy!" ... A group of protesters walked past the crumbling lakeside home of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. Standing behind barricades manned by riot police, Suu Kyi prayed with the crowd for 15 minutes before tearfully urging them to march on. [Source: Andrew Marshall, Time, October 11, 2007]
Jill Drew wrote in the Washington Post, “The monks had planned for the demonstrations to last nine days, from Sept. 18 — nine being a special number in Buddhist tradition. And they had planned for their protests to be peaceful, according to 24-year-old Ashin Kovida, a monk, and U Pan Cha, a businessman who managed security for the Rangoon demonstrations. Pan Cha, who was seasoned in protest during Burma's student uprising in 1988, said in an interview here that when last month's protests began, he held a regular nightly meeting with a Rangoon government official to outline the next day's plans and guarantee security. Pan Cha said the official did not try to stop the demonstrations but told him only that the marches must remain peaceful. [Source: Jill Drew, Washington Post, October 26, 2007]
“The Rangoon demonstrations were sparked by the government's violent reaction to a peaceful protest by monks in the central city of Pakokku. They were opposing a government-mandated fuel price increase in August that would be crippling to the poor. But when they began protesting in solidarity with the people, they were beaten by local officials; video of the beatings quickly appeared on the Internet. The monks and many laypeople were shocked by the government's actions.
“Pan Cha said he was asked by a monk friend to help with security for planned protests. He met the monks Sept. 17, the day before their first protest, and planned strategy. The monks insisted there be no violence, and Pan Cha agreed. On Sept. 18, the marches began. Thousands of monks emerged from Shwedagon Pagoda about 1 p.m., chanting a Buddhist mantra for peace and loving kindness. It was raining. Passersby stopped and prayed with the monks. Soon, many joined the march. Pan Cha asked them to join hands and walk outside the monks, forming a kind of protective chain. Ashin Kovida was one of the march organizers. He said he knew the people would join the monks, so he routed the marches from Shwedagon Pagoda to Sule Pagoda — the two most prominent temples in Rangoon — because their busy streets meant that many people would see what was happening.”
Over 100,000 Protesters Flood Yangon Streets on September 24
On the events on September 24, AFP reported: “More than 100,000 people flooded the streets of Myanmar's biggest city, joining Buddhist monks in the strongest show of dissent against the ruling generals in nearly two decades. The enormous show of strength drew a swift threat from the military government to "take action" against the monks, even as world leaders urged the junta to show restraint in dealing with the protests. Two major marches snaked their way through the nation's commercial capital led by robed monks chanting prayers of peace and compassion, witnesses said. Some of the people marched through the rain under a banner reading: "This is a peaceful mass movement." Others had tears in their eyes. [Source: AFP, September 24, 2007]
The protests lasted nearly five hours, ending with prayers at pagodas before the crowds returned to their homes. Political dissidents based in Thailand said major protests also took place in Myanmar's second city of Mandalay, the western oil town of Sittwe, and the religious center of Pakokk. In the first official reaction to a week of escalating protests led by the monks, state media reported that the religion minister, Brigadier General Thura Myint Maung, had issued a warning to senior clergy. "If the monks go against the rules and regulations in the authority of the Buddhist teachings, we will take action under the existing law," state television quoted the minister as saying.
The monks and supporters set off from holy Shwedagon Pagoda and walked past the offices of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD). NLD officials came out to join the marchers, many of whom fixed small strips of the colored cloth of the monks' robes onto their own shirts, in a procession that quickly swelled to more than 30,000 people. "We are marching for the people," one monk told the crowd.
A second march estimated at up to 100,000 people headed north of the city, drawing in ever more as it marched past the now-shuttered campus of a university that was the scene of the 1988 uprising. It appeared to stretch for as long as a kilometre (more than half a mile), blocking traffic on one of the city's major thoroughfares.
The British ambassador in Yangon, Mark Canning, said the country's leaders were now in uncharted territory and doubted that the protests would fizzle out. "You could see a sharp reaction from the government, which is more likely," he told AFP. Analysts believe the junta has thus far held back because any violence against the monks in this devoutly Buddhist nation would spark a huge outcry.
In a surprise move two days before, armed police allowed about 2,000 monks and civilians to pray outside the home of Aung San Suu Kyi but riot police blocked the road to her house the next day. Prominent democracy activists initially led the rallies but the generals arrested more than 200 people, according to human rights groups.
Andrew Marshall wrote in Time: “At a Pagoda in the Shwedagon's shadow, some of the monks chew betel nut, which makes their mouths froth alarmingly with bloodred saliva. The oldest monk, who is 49 and holds a Burmese translation of Francis Fukuyama's The Great Disruption, says the monks have three demands: "Release Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners; begin a process of national reconciliation; lower the prices of daily commodities." The junta's response comes in the evening, when Brigadier General Thura Myint Maung, Minister of Religious Affairs, is quoted on state television as promising action against the monks. Within hours, trucks with loudspeakers are cruising Rangoon's dimly lit streets, announcing a curfew and threatening to arrest anyone who marches with the monks. [Source: Andrew Marshall, Time, October 11, 2007]
September 2007 Protests Turn Violent
On September 27, 2007, in a government crackdown troops opened fire on demonstrators and raided Buddhist monasteries. The Myanmar government said 10 people were killed and 2,972 arrested. The United Nations reported 31 were killed. Activist groups said the death toll and number of arrests were higher. They have said as many 200 may have been killed. It was the strongest use of force since the 1988 demonstrations.
Myanmar soldiers clubbed and dragged away activists while firing tear gas and warning shots to break up demonstrations. There were also reports of snipers firing directly at protesters. The government cut Internet access; a Japanese photographer was shot and killed. Troops also occupied Buddhist monasteries in a bid to clear the streets of monks, who have led the demonstrations.
Rosalind Russell wrote in The Independent: “The scale of the crackdown remains undocumented. The regime has banned journalists from entering Burma and has blocked internet access and phone lines. Mark Farmaner of the Burma Campaign UK says the number of dead is possibly in the hundreds. "The regime covers up its atrocities. We will never know the true numbers," he said. Exile groups estimate the number of detentions between 6,000 and 10,000. [Source: Rosalind Russell, The Independent UK, October 11, 2007]
Rumors circulated in the Thailand-based Burmese-exile community Myanmar’s military leader Than Shwe sent his close family members to Bangkok in case the protests spiral out of control. He more had the most to lose if the growing protest movement led to forced regime change. [Source: Richard Ehrlich and Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, September 28, 2007]
Troops Move into Yangon
As the monk-led protests in Yangon ramped up there were widespread reports at the time that a battle-hardened Burmese army unit was moved into Rangoon to put down the protests. Jill Drew wrote in the Washington Post, “ Pan Cha said that on the second day of the protests, he saw soldiers clapping as the procession passed their post. He said he learned that night that Senior Gen. Than Shwe, head of the junta, had issued an order to shoot the protesters but that the local official said he would not follow the order. On Sept. 26, Pan Cha said, he received word that a different army unit, from the 66th Division, which for years had battled ethnic minority rebels from Karen state, had been brought to Rangoon. That day, the violence began. [Source: Jill Drew, Washington Post, October 26, 2007]
Describing events on September 25, Andrew Marshall wrote in Time: “The crackdown starts slowly. Several well-known democracy activists are arrested overnight. Aung Way goes into hiding. Guiltily, I retrieve his poem. "We want freedom," it reads. "We want friendship between our army and our people." The New Light of Myanmar, a junta newspaper, blames the violence on "hot-blooded monks" who "are jealous of national development and stability." Still, the monks march. The demonstrations are so large that downtown Rangoon has a carnival atmosphere. Students have now joined the march, waving red flags bearing their emblem, the fighting peacock. At the rear of the column is a group of shaven-headed Buddhist nuns in their bubble-gum-pink robes. [Source: Andrew Marshall, Time, October 11, 2007]
AP reported: “Truckloads of soldiers have moved into Rangoon amid reports of a general troop buildup. Their arrival followed announcements by the junta earlier in the day warning monks not to take part in anti-government demonstrations and the public to stay at home or risk arrest. Two army divisions were either already in or moving toward Rangoon from outlying areas, including the 22nd, which took part in the suppression of the 1988 uprising, according to diplomats. The 77th Division was already in Rangoon but not yet deployed, according to one diplomat in the city who asked to remain anonymous. Rumours swirled through Rangoon that the troops had been ordered to shoot protesters and that some soldiers had shaved their heads to imitate monks and were attempting infiltrate the protest to spark violence that would then lead to a government crackdown. [Source: AP, September 25, 2007]
Violent Monk Protests in Yangon on September 26
Jill Drew wrote in the Washington Post, “The violence began September 26. Army troops from the regiment newly arrived from outside Rangoon, as well as police, surrounded the monks who had gathered at Shwedagon Pagoda to start their march. All four corners of the pagoda grounds were blocked. A group of monks sat down in an attempt to begin negotiations to defuse the situation. "They started to pray, but the police just started beating them," Pan Cha said. Instantly, 50 to 100 police officers jumped from hiding places wielding wooden batons. A loudspeaker started blaring, telling people to go away. But there was nowhere to run; soldiers and police blocked all the exits. [Source: Jill Drew, Washington Post, October 26, 2007 ~]
“Ashin Kovida felt the blow to his belly before he saw the stick coming. He was one of the seated monks and had raised his praying hands to his forehead as he chanted the Buddhist mantra for peace. As he doubled over from the blow, he saw novice monks trying to scramble up a high wall behind them. "People were trying to escape by climbing that wall, but the police were pulling them down and kicking them, even a girl." Next, Ashin Kovida felt the tear gas. "I wondered if I might die when I was being beaten," he said. "I had never seen anything like that before." He ran to the wall and climbed over, dropping onto the ground at his Nan Oo monastery, next door to the pagoda. He and others climbed the wall on the other side and saw masses of people, their way into the pagoda complex blocked by troops. He called to them to turn and walk the other way, into the street and toward Sule Pagoda. He soon had a group of about 1,000 following him. Ashin Kovida did not reach Sule Pagoda. Too many roads were blocked. He decided to go home to his monastery, a small one that had not yet been raided by police. ~
“Pan Cha, meanwhile, tried to march a group to the Chinese Embassy to protest the bloodshed, but the roads were blocked. Police started beating the protesters and dragging them to trucks. Pan Cha was pulled into a house by people trying to protect him. They gave him clean clothes and took his bloodstained ones, then took him behind the house and helped him escape...Pan Cha said he saw snipers shoot and kill six monks directly in front of him at the Shwedagon Pagoda on Sept. 26, and he saw others killed and hundreds beaten and dragged into trucks. "I cannot imagine how many people were hurt," he said. "Blood was like a stream of water" running down the pagoda road. ~
Andrew Marshall wrote in Time: “The Shwedagon's eastern gate is locked and guarded by soldiers and riot police, who are confronted by hundreds of angry monks and students. It is around noon, and the battle for the Shwedagon is about to begin. There are explosions — of smoke bombs, meant to shock and disorient — and the riot police charge, striking the protesters with canes. The monks and students fight back, and soon there is the unmistakable crackle of live ammunition; the soldiers are shooting above our heads. "They are not Buddhists," rages Thurein, 24, a student, who is clutching half a brick and running from the smoke. "They are not humans. Tell the world. We were praying peacefully, and they beat us." The monks dress their wounds and begin their march downtown. They are pursued by trucks full of soldiers, who are jeered and pelted with rocks as they approach the Sule Pagoda. Again the soldiers fire over the protesters' heads. As dusk approaches, the crowds disperse. Nighttime Rangoon is usually a vibrant place, its sidewalks crowded with tea shops. Now nobody wants to be out after dark. [Source: Andrew Marshall, Time, October 11, 2007]
Violent Crackdown in Yangon on September 27, 2007
On September 27, soldiers and security forces fired automatic weapons into a crowd of of anti-government demonstrators, killing at least nine people . Associated Press reported: “About 10 000 anti-government protestors gathered in downtown Yangon, provoking soldiers to fire on the crowds with tear gas and resume the crackdown. The demonstrators gathered at Sule Pagoda and shouted at the soldiers, angry about early morning raids by security forces on Buddhist monasteries. Soldiers reportedly beat up and arrested more than 100 monks, who have spearheaded the largest challenge to the junta since a failed uprising in Myanmar since 1988. [Source: AP, September 27, 2007]
The Guardian reported: “Soldiers fired automatic weapons at protesters in Rangoon today, in Burma's main city, reports said. The deaths came as thousands of demonstrators defied an increasingly violent government crackdown on public protests. State media reported that nine people had been killed and a further 11 injured. A Japanese photojournalist was among the latest confirmed fatalities, the Japanese embassy said. Witnesses said a man had fallen when shots were fired by security forces charging a crowd of 1,000 protesters. Embassy officials said Burmese diplomats had informed them that the photojournalist was one of several people found dead. [Source: Ian MacKinnon, Mark Tran, The Guardian and agencies, September 27, 2007 ]
“The deaths came as troops with loudspeakers told people they had 10 minutes to go home or risk being shot. Witnesses later told the Associated Press that soldiers fired directly into a crowd near a bridge before arresting and severely beating five men. Earlier, anti-government protesters squared off against soldiers amid anger at early morning raids on Buddhist monasteries by security forces.
“However, Burmese exiles in Thailand said some soldiers had formed a group called the Public Patriotic Army Association to declare their support for the monks and opposition to the military junta. In a brief statement, made following a secret meeting on Tuesday and obtained by Guardian Unlimited, the group said: "The aim of building up the armed forces should be to protect the people's lives and property and to fight the enemies of the people. "In this emergency, we encourage you to join the Public Patriotic Army Association and arise to bravely stand alongside the people." The apparent call to mutiny could not be verified - but, if genuine, will deeply alarm Burma's ruling three-man military junta.
Monasteries Raided During the September 2007 Protests in Myanmar
Myanmar troops also raided monasteries. The Guardian reported: “Security forces staged dawn raids on at least six monasteries in Rangoon, seizing more than 200 monks and arresting two political leaders from the National League for Democracy, Ms Suu Kyi's opposition party. Troops smashed doors and windows to break into the Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery - a hotbed of the pro-democracy movement - as some young monks escaped through windows. Senior clergy at the monastery said some monks were beaten when they resisted. As many as 75 of the 150 monks at the monastery were taken away and a number of shots were fired. At Moe Guang, another monastery in Rangoon's northern suburbs, a number of monks were arrested and were being guarded by soldiers. [Source: Ian MacKinnon, Mark Tran, The Guardian and agencies, September 27, 2007]
Andrew Marshall wrote in Time: “Overnight, troops surge into monasteries across the city, beating and arresting monks. At Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery, the floors are puddled with blood, the thin dormitory walls perforated with holes from rubber bullets. The raids enrage the people. The lives of Burmese Buddhists are intertwined with the lives of the monks. Monks preside over marriages, chant over the dead; they shelter orphans, care for HIV patients and help schoolchildren cram for their exams. A devout Buddhist will not even step on the shadow of a monk. With soldiers and police still inside Ngwe Kyar Yan, hundreds of local people surround it. "We had no weapons," a neighbor tells me. "Everyone just wanted to protect the monks." Eventually, with night approaching, the security forces fight their way out with live rounds, killing two people. [Source: Andrew Marshall, Time, October 11, 2007]
Associated Press reported: “Tensions mounted when truckloads of pro-junta thugs arrived at the Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery about 8 kilometers north of downtown Yangon, the largest city in the isolated Southeast Asian nation. About 250 men carrying bamboo poles and truncheons surrounded the monastery compound. Riot police fired tear gas at a crowd of some 1 500 supporters of the monks. [Source: AP, September 27, 2007]
Brutal Detainment of Monks, Protesters and Bystanders
Rosalind Russell wrote in The Independent: “Monks confined in a room with their own excrement for days, people beaten just for being bystanders at a demonstration, a young woman too traumatised to speak, and screams in the night as Rangoon's residents hear their neighbours being taken away. Harrowing accounts smuggled out of Burma reveal how a systematic campaign of physical punishment and psychological terror is being waged by the Burmese security forces as they take revenge on those suspected of involvement in last month's pro-democracy uprising. [Source: Rosalind Russell, The Independent UK, October 11, 2007 ==]
“The hidden crackdown is as methodical as it is brutal. First the monks were targeted, then the thousands of ordinary Burmese who joined the demonstrations, those who even applauded or watched, or those merely suspected of anti-government sympathies. "There were about 400 of us in one room. No toilets, no buckets, no water for washing. No beds, no blankets, no soap. Nothing," said a 24-year-old monk who was held for 10 days at the Government Technical Institute, a leafy college in northern Rangoon which is now a prison camp for suspected dissidents. The young man, too frightened to be named, was one of 185 monks taken in a raid on a monastery in the Yankin district of Rangoon on 28 September, two days after government soldiers began attacking street protesters. ==
"The room was too small for everyone to lie down at once. We took it in turns to sleep. Every night at 8 o'clock we were given a small bowl of rice and a cup of water. But after a few days many of us just couldn't eat. The smell was so bad. "Some of the novice monks were under 10 years old, the youngest was just seven. They were stripped of their robes and given prison sarongs. Some were beaten, leaving open, untreated wounds, but no doctors came." On his release, the monk spoke to a Western aid worker in Rangoon, who smuggled his testimony and those of other prisoners and witnesses out of Burma on a small memory stick. ==
“Most of the detained monks, the low-level clergy, were eventually freed without charge as were the children among them. But suspected ringleaders of the protests can expect much harsher treatment, secret trials and long prison sentences. One detained opposition leader has been tortured to death, activist groups said yesterday. Win Shwe, 42, a member of the National League for Democracy, the party of the detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has died under interrogation, the Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said, adding that the information came from authorities in Kyaukpandawn township. "However, his body was not sent to his family and the interrogators indicated that they had cremated it instead." Win Shwe was arrested on the first day of the crackdown. ==
“A young woman, a domestic worker in Rangoon, described how one woman bystander who applauded the monks was rounded up. "My friend was taken away for clapping during the demonstrations. She had not marched. She came out of her house as the marchers went by and, for perhaps 30 seconds, smiled and clapped as the monks chanted. Her face was recorded on a military intelligence camera. She was taken and beaten. Now she is so scared she won't even leave her room to come and talk to me, to anyone." Another Rangoon resident told the aid worker: "We all hear screams at night as they [the police] arrive to drag off a neighbour. We are torn between going to help them and hiding behind our doors. We hide behind our doors. We are ashamed. We are frightened." ==
“Burmese intelligence agents are scrutinising photographs and video footage to identify demonstrators and bystanders. They have also arrested the owners of computers which they suspect were used to transmit images and testimonies out of the country. For each story smuggled out to The Independent, someone has risked arrest and imprisonment. Hein Zay Kyaw (not his real name) received a telephone call last week telling him to be at a government compound where the military were releasing 42 people, among them Mr Kyaw's friend, missing since he was plucked from the edge of a demonstration on 26 September. Mr Kyaw told the aid worker: "The prisoners were let out of the trucks. Even though now they were safe, they were still so scared. They walked with their hands shielding their faces as if they were expecting blows. They were lined up in rows and sat down against the wall, still cowering. Their clothes were dirty, some stained with blood. Our friend had a clean T-shirt on. We were relieved because we thought this meant that he had not been beaten. We were wrong. He had been beaten on the head and the blood had soaked his shirt which he carried in a plastic bag." ==
“In Rangoon, people say they are more frightened now than when soldiers were shooting on the streets. "When there were demonstrations and soldiers on the streets, the world was watching," said a professional woman who watched the marchers from her office. "But now the soldiers only come at night. They take anyone they can identify from their videos. People who clapped, who offered water to the monks, who knelt and prayed as they passed. People who happened to turn and watch as they passed by and their faces were caught on film. It is now we are most fearful. It is now we need the world to help us."
Japanese Photographer Shot and Killed During the September 2007 Protests in Yangon
During the violent clashes on September 27, Japanese photojournalist Kenji Nagai, 50, was shot and killed. He was covering the protests for APF. Reuters’ Bangkok senior photographer Adrees Latif won a Pulitzer Prize the breaking news photography category in 2008 for pictures taken in Myanmar during the protests in September that include the photo of Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai being shot. It was Reuters’ first pulitzer prize.
Describing his experiences during the protests, Adrees Latif wrote: “Tipped off by protests against soaring fuel prices, I landed in Yangon on 23 September, 2007, with some old clothes, a Canon 5D camera, two fixed lenses and a laptop. For the next four days, I went to Shwedagon Pagoda, two-three kilometers from the center of town and waited for the monks who had been gathering there daily at noon. Since I was at the same pagoda every day, dozens of people, including monks, asked me who I was and what I was doing. As the ruling military regime is notoriously secretive, my replies were guarded. Barefoot in maroon robes, and ringed by civilians, the monks chanted and prayed before starting their two-kilometre march to the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. Each day their numbers grew, from hundreds to thousands. [Source: Adrees Latif, Reuters, April 7, 2008]
By 27 September, the city had become packed with troops. Soldiers and government agents stood at street corners. Finding the Shwedagon Pagoda sealed off, I went to the middle of town to find groups of young people taunting soldiers at Sule. Within minutes, the crowd swelled from hundreds to a few thousand. The soldiers threw barbed wire coils across the roads. Knowing that hundreds of people were gunned down in similar circumstances in a 1988 uprising, I climbed an old crosswalk directly overhead, to get to one of the few spots offering a clear view. Below me, protesters were singing and waving flags; to the side, young men were thrusting their pelvises at the soldiers.
At about 1.30pm local time, two dark green, open-top army trucks approached, followed by dozens more packed with riot police. They were hit by a barrage of water bottles, fruit and abuse from the crowd. I had already locked on my 135mm lens and set my camera shutter speed to 1000, aperture to F/7.1 and ISO at 800. With the camera on manual, I wanted to stop any movement while offering as much depth-of-field as possible.
Two minutes later, the shooting started. My eye caught a person flying backwards through the air. Instinctively, I started photographing, capturing four frames of the man on his back. The entry point of the bullet is clear in the first frame, with a soldier in flip flops standing over the man and pointing a rifle. In the second frame, the man is reaching over to try and film. More shots rang out. I flinched before getting off two more frames – one of the man pointing the camera at the soldier, and one of his face contorted in pain.
After September 2007 Protests in Myanmar
About three weeks after the September 27 crackdown, Associated Press reported: “Myanmar lifted a curfew and ended a ban on assembly imposed during a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests — the latest sign the military rulers are confident they have fully crushed the largest demonstrations in two decades. The relaxing of restrictions imposed Sept. 25 was announced from government vehicles driven through the streets of Myanmar's largest city, Yangon. "The curfew and ban on assembly has been revoked effective today, because security and stability has improved," according to the announcement issued from a speaker atop one of the vehicles. [Source: Associated Press, October 20, 2007 *]
“The lifting of the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and ban on gatherings of more than five people indicates the junta believes it has stamped out the uprising...Since the crackdown, authorities in Myanmar have attempted to apply a softer touch. They have cleared the streets of soldiers and released some prominent activists. U.S. presidential press secretary Dana Perino said the announcement was "a bad sign that the regime now feels confident that it has cleared the monasteries of dissidents by either jailing them or sending them to their home villages, and arrested all the major players in the demonstrations and sent into hiding or exile those they have not captured." *
“The government announced earlier that military leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe was willing to meet with the Aung San Suu Kyi, but only if she meets certain conditions including renouncing support for foreign countries' economic sanctions targeting the impoverished nation.In a lengthy commentary, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the time was right for Suu Kyi to respond positively to the offer of talks "with a view to serving the interest of all." "We are tired of watching a stalemate ... we should not go on like this forever," the commentary said. "There should be some forms of compromise. If one side makes a concession, the other side should do so. The situation will get worse if both sides are arrogantly intransigent, refusing to budge from their stand." *
“By November 2007, the junta was showing signs of reconciliation: it was sending out feelers to dissidents and allowing the United Nations to investigate the riots and tally the dead. Aung San Suu Kyi was shown shaking hands with a representative from the junta and she said she was ready to “cooperate” with the regime. Aung San Suu Kyi met with members of her party, the National League of Democracy, for the first time in three years. Some of the monks who led the Saffron Revolution remain in Myanmar’s prisons, and the regime has taken over many of the monasteries, carefully vetting all applicants for their political loyalties.” *
United Nations: Junta “Officially” Killed 31 People
In December 2007, Associated Press reported: “Myanmar’s military killed 31 people who can be identified by name during a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators more than double the amount acknowledged by authorities, a U.N. investigator who visited the country said. But Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the U.N. human rights expert assigned to the country, said the death toll was probably much higher because there were reported cases of killings where victims’ names were not given. He gave authorities a list of 16 people killed in the military junta’s September crackdown, which are in addition to the 15 dead he said have been acknowledged by Myanmar’s authorities. The new list “contains only those incidents where the names of the people involved are cited,” Pinheiro said in a 31-page report released by the U.N. on Friday. “There are a number of incidents where no names were reported but where there were allegations of groups of people reportedly killed, which have also been shared.” [Source: AP, December 7, 2007 *]
“Pinheiro, who visited the country also known as Burma, from Nov. 11-15, said the report has a “list of names of 653 persons detained, 74 persons disappeared and 16 killed in addition to the list of 15 dead provided by the authorities.” His report includes details of a visit to the Htain Bin crematorium, where authorities said 14 corpses were transferred from the Yangon General Hospital. The bodies were registered and cremated, but three of the dead could not be identified. Eleven of those cremated died as a result of firearm wounds. *
“Pinheiro also said he received “credible reports” from a monk detained between Sept. 27 and Oct. 5 that at least 14 individuals died in custody. These included eight monks and one boy, who died on the first day, the monk told Pinheiro, adding that the deaths were due to poor detention conditions. Pinheiro said he heard that Win Shwe, a member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy movement, died during questioning in Plate Myot Police Center, near Mandalay, on Oct. 9. His body was not returned to his family, Pinheiro said. U Thilavantha, the deputy abbot of the Yuzana Kyaungthai monastery in Myitkyina, was allegedly beaten to death in detention on Sept. 26, Pinheiro said. *
“He added that “credible sources” reported a large number of bodies wrapped in plastic and rice bags that were burned in the early hours of the last days of September. The burning took place at the Ye Way crematorium in Yangon. Authorities blocked Pinheiro from visiting. “Sources indicate that it was not usual practice for the crematorium to operate during the hours in question, that normal employees were instructed to keep away, and that the facility was operated on those nights by state security personnel or state-supported groups,” Pinheiro said. At least one report indicated that some of those cremated had shaved heads, indicating they were monks, and some had signs of serious injuries. *
Human Rights Watch also said the military killed far more than it has acknowledged. The New York-based group said in a report that it had documented the deaths of 20 protesters, but believes that many more Buddhist monks, students and other civilians were killed. *
After the Protests: Myanmar Junta Tightens Screws and Hunts Dissidents
Aung Hla Tun of Reuters wrote: “Despite gradually easing its iron grip on Yangon the junta continued to round up scores of people and grill hundreds more arrested during and after a ruthless crackdown on pro-democracy marches. A relative of three women released said detainees were being divided into four categories: passers-by, those who watched, those who clapped and those who joined in. "They're looking for the people who led the demonstrations. The people clapping will only get a minimal punishment - maybe two to five years," said Win Min, who fled to Thailand during a crackdown on a student-led uprising in 1988. Leaders could be looking at up to 20 years behind bars, he said. [Source: Aung Hla Tun, Reuters, October 4, 2007 =]
“People in central Yangon's Kamayut district said soldiers had arrested scores of people on Wednesday night for trying to impede a raid on the Aung Nyay Tharzi monastery a few days earlier and giving protection to fleeing Buddhist monks Another 70 young monks rounded up in other swoops across the city a week ago were freed overnight from a government technical institute, complementing 80 monks and 149 women believed to be nuns released. One freed monk, who did not want his name revealed, said some had been beaten when they refused to answer questions about their identity, birthplace, parents and involvement in the protests, the biggest challenge to the junta in nearly 20 years. "The food and living conditions were horrible," the monk, from Yangon's Pyinya Yamika Maha monastery told Reuters. =
The junta closed down monasteries. Thousands of monks were sent home to their villages from their monasteries. Associated Press reported: U.S. embassy staff had gone to some monasteries in recent days and found them empty. Others were barricaded by the military and declared off-limits to outsiders. "There is a significantly reduced number of monks on the streets. Where are the monks? What has happened to them?" the acting ambassador said. Scores of monks were seen at Yangon's main train station Wednesday, trying to get out of the city. Witnesses said some were ordered by their superior monks to go back home to avoid trouble. Others were ordered by the government to vacate monasteries and head home to reduce the possibility of future unrest. [Source: AP, October 3, 2007 ^]
“Soldiers said they were hunting pro-democracy protesters in Yangon and the top U.S. diplomat in the country said military police had pulled people out of their homes during the night. Military vehicles patrolled the streets before dawn with loudspeakers blaring that: "We have photographs. We are going to make arrests!" Shari Villarosa, the acting U.S. ambassador in Myanmar, said in a telephone interview that people in Yangon were terrified. "From what we understand, military police ... are traveling around the city in the middle of the night, going into homes and picking up people," she said. Residents living near the Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's most revered shrine and a flashpoint of unrest, said police swept through several dozen homes in the middle of the night dragging away several men for questioning. ^
Arrests After the September 2007 Protests in Myanmar
Two weeks after the September 27 crackdown the news agencies reported: “A relentless crackdown on Myanmar's pro-democracy activists showed no sign of easing with the junta announcing that 78 more people have been detained in spite of global outrage and new sanctions. The latest arrests, reported by the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper, brought to nearly 1,000 the number of people the military regime acknowledges holding in detention centers. In addition, it says 135 Buddhist monks remain in custody. But dissident groups and foreign governments say more than 6,000 people. [Source: News services, October 10, 2007 ~]
The New Light of Myanmar, a mouthpiece of the junta, quoted investigators as saying 78 more people "who were involved in the protest" were being questioned. It did not say when they were detained. These were in addition to 2,093 people who were detained earlier, of which 1,215 were released, the paper said. Authorities also took in 533 monks for questioning "to differentiate between real monks and bogus monks." "Out of those taken, 398 monks have been sent back to their respective monasteries," it said. ~
The junta's propaganda machine, meanwhile, continued to claim massive rallies across the country, allegedly in support of the government. The paper said demonstrators denounced the recent protests "instigated" by some monks and members of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's party. Demonstrators waved placards and shouted: "We want peace, we don't want terrorists." It reported four rallies in central and northwestern Myanmar, attended by 7,500, 19,000, 20,000 and 30,000 people. Such rallies are widely believed to be stage-managed by the government, with every family in the district forced to contribute one or two members. The junta has snuffed out the democracy movement despite international condemnation. ~
The BBC reported as many as 10,000 people were rounded up. Norimasa Tahara wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Myanmar's military junta planted plainclothes soldiers and policemen among demonstrators to identify monk and citizen leaders...A source close to the junta disclosed that the junta launched a “preemptive attack” on anti-government movement leaders. ~
Jill Drew wrote in the Washington Post, “One 60-year-old man, who was a bystander during the protests but has not been arrested, said he spoke with a friend who spent five days in a detention center. The man estimated there were 3,000 people in the building, once a technical college in Insein Township, near the notorious Insein Prison. People were put in former lecture halls, hundreds in a room without toilets. Drinking water was scarce. "He said it was like a life in hell for five days," he said. A Rangoon taxi driver told of a friend detained for 10 days. "He was given one egg to share with eight people, one bottle of water. No one was allowed to sleep. They had to sit, and if they lay down, they were hit." [Source: Jill Drew, Washington Post, October 24, 2007]
All but 91 of the 3,000 or so people arrested were released within a few weeks. In December Associated Press reported: “national police chief Brig. Gen. Khin Yi said that 2,927 people, including 596 monks, were detained in connection with the protests, but that only 80 people, including 21 monks, remain in custody. [Source: AP, December 7, 2007]
Arrest of Leaders of the September 2007 Protests in Myanmar
In mid-October 2007, Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “In a continuing campaign of arrests in Myanmar, the authorities have caught their most-wanted man, a former student leader who helped organize recent protests, Amnesty International said. The organizer, U Htay Kywe, 39, was the last remaining leader of a group called the 88 Generation Students Group, which had led protests against a fuel price increase in mid-August that grew into huge demonstrations against the military junta. Two other members of the group were also arrested, as well as another dissident, according to Amnesty. One of the people reported to have been arrested is Daw Mie Mie, 35, who was prominent in photographs and videos of the first small demonstrations that had been smuggled out of the country. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, October 14, 2007]
The government is now hunting down participants in the rallies, from leaders like Mr. Htay Kywe to prominent monks to other categories of people like “those who watched,” “those who clapped” and “those who joined in,” according to exile groups. “The crackdown is quite systematic, to create terror, real terror, among the people,” said Aung Zaw, editor of the exile magazine Irrawaddy, who has maintained contacts in Myanmar, formerly Burma. “After they put down the monks’ protests they are just hunting down Htay Kywe and other civilian activists,” he said. “They want to arrest them all and put them in prison, perhaps indefinitely.”
Thirteen other leaders of the 88 Generation Students Group were arrested after the first protest, on Aug. 19. Most of them, like Mr. Htay Kywe, spent many years in prison after leading countrywide demonstrations in 1988 that were violently suppressed by the military. Estimates of the death toll in that crackdown range from the hundreds to the thousands. Among the leaders arrested in August is one who goes by the name Min Ko Naing — which means Conqueror of Kings — the most influential opposition figure after Aung San Suu Kyi.
Mr. Htay Kywe has been the subject of an intense manhunt as the authorities circulated pictures of wanted dissidents to hotels, raided houses and checked passengers on buses, exiles said. Still on the run are three women who were prominent in the August rallies, including Daw Nilar Thein, who left her 4-month-old baby with her grandparents when she went into hiding, the exile groups said, and Daw Su Su Nway, 34, a labor activist who had been receiving medication for heart problems.
Year after Crackdown, Myanmar Junta Flexes Muscles
In late September 2008, a year after the crackdown, Reuters reported: “Myanmar's junta put armed police and barbed wire barricades on the streets of Yangon, the first anniversary of a bloody military crackdown on major anti-government protests. Security was especially tight near the house of detained opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and in front of City Hall, where a small bomb exploded earlier, wounding seven people. Official papers said none of the victims were seriously hurt, and urged public vigilance against the "bombers and terrorists in disguise". No group was blamed for the blast. Normally in the aftermath of such incidents, the junta immediately points the finger at underground democracy activists or the ethnic guerrilla groups. [Source: Reuters, September 26, 2008]
"The authorities concerned are conducting investigation into the case to expose the saboteurs and explosives," said the New Light of Myanmar, the junta's primary mouthpiece. The paper also said bomb squad officers found and defused a second device left near the site of the first explosion and timed to detonate an hour afterwards. Even though it is impossible to say who might have been behind the bombs — one diplomat suggested it could even be the military trying to justify its heavy security presence in Yangon — the timing was significant.
Earlier this month, female activist Nilar Thein, a student leader in a brutally crushed democracy uprising in 1988 and an organiser of last year's protests, was detained after a year on the run. She went into hiding, abandoning her four-month-old daughter, when her husband was arrested in August for helping stage the small fuel and food price demonstrations that snowballed into the monk-led marches a month later. The junta says all but a handful of those detained have been freed, although rights groups say 700 are still behind bars. Myanmar's longest-serving political prisoner, 79-year-old journalist Win Tin, was freed this week after 19 years in prison. However, another senior member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) was rearrested only 24 hours after being released from a prison in Katha, 1,000 kilometers north of Yangon, NLD spokesman Nyan Win said.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
Last updated May 2014